AP Political Wrtier
RICHMOND, Va. - After a bruising legislative session that saw him targeted by television comedians, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is touting his record and burnishing his image as a vice-presidential prospect with a new television ad.
McDonnell's political action committee, Opportunity Virginia, is spending about $400,000 to broadcast the 30-second ad in markets statewide for 10 days starting Wednesday. No state money is going into the commercial.
The sunny commercial debuts as Republican Mitt Romney's lead in the GOP delegate count makes him the party's presumptive presidential nominee. It features eight business figures putting the best face on Virginia's three-year low 5.6 percent unemployment rate, favorable pro-business rankings, agricultural exports and recovering state finances.
At the end, a fresh-faced McDonnell _ who endorsed Romney in January just before the South Carolina primary _ steps up to a camera and says, "Virginia's growing strong, and so is our future."
Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said the ad is unprecedented, but McDonnell's image was in need of some mending in Virginia and beyond after the 2012 General Assembly session.
"It's never happened before, that's for sure," said Sabato, whose Center for Politics at UVa keeps detailed records of Virginia politics. "It's showy but it's a smart move because he's taken a big hit."
In March, McDonnell's job-approval rating in a statewide survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute dropped to 53 percent, down from 58 percent the month before and 61 percent last September. The polls have a margin of sampling error of less than 3 percentage points. The March poll also indicated that even with McDonnell paired with Romney, Democratic President Barack Obama would still carry Virginia.
"The controversies have taken a big chunk out of his popularity," Sabato said.
McDonnell got swept along as a Republican-ruled legislature muscled through a number of bills backed by social and religious conservatives, particularly a bill that would have required women to undergo invasive ultrasound exams before having abortions.
The strongly anti-abortion governor toned down the bill so that it effectively required only an external ultrasound, but only after he was vilified by pundits on cable news politics shows and lampooned on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Saturday Night Live also took a well-documented poke at Virginia over the bill.
He and legislative Republicans also found themselves in a steely standoff with Senate Democrats angry that even though they held the same 20 Senate seats Republicans did, they were unable to stop this year's tide of conservative legislation with GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast tie-breaking votes. As a result, Democrats delayed passage of the state budget by five weeks holding out for concessions.
The ad cites praise from MoneyRates.com, which ranked Virginia the best state in which to earn a living, and CNBC's designation of Virginia as America's Top State for Business.
It accurately notes a one-time infusion of about $4 billion McDonnell engineered last year for transportation, calling it "the largest investment in transportation in a generation."
It also trumpets that year-end budget surpluses during the first two fiscal years of the single, non-renewable, four-year term that Virginia uniquely allows its governors totaled more than $1 billion. But the ad omits mention of the decision in 2010 by McDonnell and the legislature to defer more than $600 million in state contributions into the Virginia Retirement System to help close a $4.6 billion shortfall that year.
McDonnell's 2012 budget demands increased VRS payments by state and local governments, starting a multi-year effort to pay down a pension fund with its nearly $25 billion unfunded liability.
McDonnell's communications director, J. Tucker Martin, rejected suggestions that the ad was McDonnell's audition for Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
"This ad is running in South Boston (Va.), not Boston," he said. "Sometimes, a positive ad is just a positive ad."
View the Opportunity Virginia ad: http://youtu.be/ubk8-EcOZHQ
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